Nov. 3, 2013, marked the end point for a two-year mission for a group of individuals at AOL. Our feet hit the pavement beginning in Staten Island as we fought the bitter cold and wind running across the Verrazano Bridge – through the lively streets of Brooklyn – into the borough of Queens – down the three miles of Manhattan's party central 1st Ave. – into the quiet streets and bridges of the Bronx and then back into Manhattan for the torturous (and hilly) final four miles to the finish line...and we did it – all 26.2 miles for Rory!
This mission started back at the beginning of 2012. The AOL Sales Team started out the new year with a Sales Conference kickoff during which I won the first Rory Wheeler Courage Award. Rory was a former colleague in the Detroit office who lost a 20-month battle with cancer on July 25, 2011. Winning the Rory Wheeler Courage Award was one of the proudest moments of my professional career. I had never felt so proud and honored in my life, and although Rory and I had never worked directly with one another – I knew this award would impact my life in some intangible way.
I began a rapport with Rory's parents Bob and Karen as well as his wife Kristen and after each email and conversation, I felt a lingering need to ensure that Rory's memory would live for years to come in a way that helped people, in a place that's special in nature and by doing something Rory would have loved. With that, I worked with the Ronald McDonald House in New York City in my efforts to "pay it forward." I created a NYC Marathon team to raise money for the operating costs of the house and renovations of their music room. Knowing Rory's love of music, I thought this would be the best place for his spirit to live on.
I recruited 29 AOLers from across four offices in the U.S. and our training began. Some of these runners knew Rory, knew of Rory or didn't know him at all – yet they were all committed to putting a lot of their personal life on hold to run this race for a great cause. Amid much anticipation, the 2012 NYC Marathon never happened due to Hurricane Sandy but the troopers on the AOL Marathon Team committed to training yet another year. In the end, I'm proud to say, with a handful of injuries, 22 of us ran and this AOL Team in total raised more than $115,000! (Our team site is still live.)
This week I had our final "team" meeting at the RMDH with our Architect, Designer, Construction Aids and Project Manager who confirmed we'll break ground within the next two weeks and start the creation of the Rory Wheeler Music Room at the RMDH in NYC.
Although I'll never fully understand why Rory has become such an impactful figure in my life, he's an angel on my shoulder who has helped me do something wonderful for my AOL family, the Wheelers, the RMDH in NYC and more importantly, for myself.
AOL Marathon Team
2013 AOL Runners:
Spencer Aungst; Lauren Damron; John Fox; Chelsea Johnson; Robin London; Jimmy Mayman; Julia McAndrew; Keith Morrison; Tom Simpson; Jared Smith; Renee Sturm; Brian Virgo & Christa Zambardino
Kenneth Jansson; Kelsey Kennedy; Feliz Pomerantz & Donald Rugama
AOL Friends & Family:
Alex Chalmers; Joe Hornstein; Bill Hoy; Ryan Mertz; Chris McAndrew & Dan Zambardino
Brad Elders; Chris Greenberg; Megan Heck; Liz Martinez; Paul Repola & Eva Rose
The AOL Marathon Team was supported by AOL's Community Relations 'Walk and Run Program', which supports employees participating as a team in races for a cause